Sunday, July 31, 2011


Title:               Speak
Category:       Realistic
Grade:            13-17
Author:          Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher:       Penguin
Place:              New York
Date:               1999
Pages:             198

Melinda is unquestionably the pariah of the school.  After she called the cops to bust up the party event of the summer, even her best friends won’t speak to her.  What no one knows, and Melinda can’t seem to say is that more happened to her at that party than just a couple of beers and some crazy dancing.  Hiding from her once-friends and herself, Melinda finds it harder and harder to even speak at all, chewing her lips raw instead.  Unfortunately, she can’t avoid what happened, or the boy who caused it forever, and when he begins dating her once-best friend, Melinda knows she must find her voice.  Through art and the support of one or two friends who slowly come back to her, she does find the courage to talk about being raped and eventually to confront her attacker and triumph. 

Similar in characterization and tone to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, Speak combines an extremely intense subject matter with strong characterization, a bit of humor and an easy-to-read, candid tone that is engrossing. I have been wanting to read Speak for years, and based on all the controversy and “dark” gossip I heard, did not expect it to be as easy a read as it was. The most surprising part was the very positive tone and outcome, even through a time in Melinda’s life where she was deeply disturbed.  On the flip side, Anderson’s portrayal of the callous nature of kids and even adults when faced with a disturbed youth was sobering and, I feel, very realistic.  Teens will be able to connect to Melinda’s isolation and the disconnect between her and the adults in her life, particularly her parents.  Supplemental information suggested that often boys do not understand this book, and do not know why Andy’s actions against Melinda constituted rape nor why she reacted the way she did, but that the book has been used successfully to help them begin to both understand and respect the opposite sex in a new way. 

Some of the parts of this story seemed faintly contrived; I had trouble believing Melinda could confiscate a janitor’s closet that remained unlocked all year, and go completely unnoticed.  Likewise, while I appreciated Melinda’s opportunity to go “girl power” on Andy and put his life in danger, I found the scene with the shattered mirror slightly hard to believe.  Nevertheless, the book’s honesty, power, and warmth of approach have earned it high praise and a lasting place in the literary canon, and I am happy to be in wholehearted agreement.


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